Why Did Kim Kardashian Think Cyntoia Brown Should Be Released from Prison?

Tennessee Governor Bill Halsam announced Monday that he has granted clemency to Cyntoia Brown, who is serving a life sentence for killing a man when she was 16. The 30-year-old Brown’s case became a cause célèbre after celebrities like Kim Kardashian began advocating for her release. Find out why people thought Brown should be released from prison and why her case got so much attention.

Why was Brown in prison?

In 2004, Brown murdered 43-year-old Johnny Mitchell Allen, who had paid her for sex. She said she shot Allen because she believed he was reaching for a gun and feared for her life. She then stole money from Allen to pay her pimp.

A juvenile court determined Brown should be tried as an adult. A jury was not convinced by Brown’s claims of self-defense and sentenced her to 51 years to life in prison.

Brown was a victim of sex trafficking  

While prosecutors characterized Brown as a “teen prostitute,” as CNN reported, in reality she was a victim of sex trafficking. She may have had fetal alcohol syndrome and grew up in an abusive home. After running away from her adoptive parents, she was forced into prostitution by a pimp named Cut Throat.

In a pretrial interview, Brown described how Cut Throat would physically and sexually abuse her and force her to have sex with other men. When asked why she stayed with her abuser, Brown explained, “You’re not listening, I made him money. He wasn’t going to let me go nowhere. He told me he’d kill me.”

Brown’s case gains attention

Brown’s case first gained attention after PBS aired the documentary Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story on its show Independent Lens in 2011. The film, directed by Daniel H. Birman, follows Brown’s life from her arrest through her conviction and first years in prison.

In 2017, Brown’s case again received media attention. While it wasn’t clear exactly what sparked the new wave of interest in her story, it may have been related to a new report from the local Fox affiliate in Nashville. In any case, a number of celebrities, including Rihanna, LeBron James, Snoop Doggg, Cara Delevingne, and Kim Kardashian all began speaking out about Brown’s case on social media and arguing she should be released.

Kim Kardashian speaks out  

Kardashian wasn’t the first celebrity to take up Brown’s cause, but she did help spread the word to her millions of social media followers. “The system has failed. It’s heart breaking to see a young girl sex trafficked then when she has the courage to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what’s right,” Kardashian tweeted in 2017. “I’ve called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this.”

After Gov. Haslam granted Brown clemency, Kardashian again tweeted her support.

When Brown will be released

In March 2018, the Tennessee parole board could not come to a decision about whether to grant clemency to Brown. That left the decision about her fate to outgoing governor Haslam. He decided to that releasing Brown was the right thing to do.

“This decision comes after careful consideration of what is a tragic and complex case,” Haslam said in a statement.  “Cyntoia Brown committed, by her own admission, a horrific crime at the age of 16.  Yet, imposing a life sentence on a juvenile that would require her to serve at least 51 years before even being eligible for parole consideration is too harsh, especially in light of the extraordinary steps Ms. Brown has taken to rebuild her life.  Transformation should be accompanied by hope.  So, I am commuting Ms. Brown’s sentence, subject to certain conditions.”

Brown will be eligible for release on August 7 after serving 15 years in prison. She’ll spend 10 years on parole. While in prison, Brown earned her associate degree, graduating with a 4.0 GPA. She is set to earn a bachelor’s degree in May.

“Thank you, Governor Haslam, for your act of mercy in giving me a second chance,” Brown said in a statement issued through her lawyers. “I will do everything I can to justify your faith in me.” 

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